For millions of New Jersey residents, public transportation is the primary mode of travel. As the third largest public transit system in the country, the New Jersey mass transit system is fairly complex, challenging both logistics and the maintenance involved. Any mistakes in the logistics or maintenance could mean masses of people don’t make it to their destinations safely.
If the facilities are not maintained properly, people may get hurt or even killed. As the population in New Jersey continues to rise steadily, the more its citizens rely on public transportation. With that comes conditions like spilled food and beverages; more mud, snow, and ice tracked into stations, busses, and trains; and other hazards that transportation operations workers are constantly trying to address. As a result, the inevitable happens and people slip and fall, become injured, and rack up large sums of medical bills.
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What Is a Slip and Fall Accident?
Generally, a slip and fall accident is when someone finds themselves in a hazardous condition, slips or trips, falls, and injures themselves. An easy way to visualize this is to imagine the classic example of someone walking and accidentally stepping on a banana peel, slipping, and then falling. Although slip and trip are often used interchangeably, they have their own distinctions. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines these distinctions as follows: (1) you can slip when you lose your footing; (2) you can trip when you catch your foot on or in something; (3) and one or both of those can lead to a fall, which is when you come down to the floor suddenly and accidently.
What Is Considered Public Transportation?
The Federal Transit Administration defines a “public transportation service” as “the operation of a vehicle that provides general or special service to the public on a regular and continuing basis consistent with 49 U.S.C. Chapter 53.” According to the CDC’s Office of the Associate Director for Policy and Strategy, public transportation systems include several different types of transit options including buses, subways, and railway trains. Public transportation is usually implemented at a state, regional and/or local level, some of which are supported by the federal government’s funding.
Public transportation is open to the general public, usually charging a fare, and runs on a specific schedule. Those who use these modes of transportation will oftentimes have to form their schedule around the set times and locations of the public transit method they decide to use.
What Are the Dangers of a Slip and Fall Accident on Public Transportation Property?
A slip and fall incident on public transportation can happen in many different ways, for endless reasons, and it can lead to very severe injuries. Some ways a slip and fall accident can occur on public transportation or its property include:
- Slipping on wet or icy stairs or platforms
- Slipping and/or tripping in dirt, mud, or sand on indoor or outdoor property
- Slip and fall due to fast acceleration of a public transportation vehicle
- Any slippery floor hazard on a public transportation vehicle
- Slip and fall due to reliance on slippery or faulty handrails
The possibilities of what could happen on public transportation property or a vehicle itself are seemingly endless. Traveling by public transportation often involves very crowded, tight spaces and massive numbers of people in a hurry to get places. Usually when a slip and fall happens inside a public transport vehicle or public transportation property, it catches you off guard and happens fast. Unfortunately, the ground you would most of the times end up falling on will be hard. This can lead to very serious injuries such as:
- Hip fractures
- Back injury
- Spine injury
- Neck injury
- Shoulder injury
- Broken bones
- Cuts and bruises
- Internal bleeding
- Head injuries, including traumatic brain injury
Steps to Take After a Slip and Fall on Public Transportation
If you are involved in a slip and fall accident on public transportation in New Jersey, you need to take the right steps to make sure you are safe and utilize your rights to the utmost. Let’s outline some things you need to do immediately after this type of incident:
- Seek medical attention immediately
- Document all details involving the incident (with pictures, witnesses, writing, etc.)
- Do not give any statements to a public transportation official
- Contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible
Taking these steps will set you on the right path to receive the compensation you deserve. By receiving medical help immediately, documenting all the details, and only speaking to your attorney will leave you in the best possible position to receive the remedy and care you deserve. These steps will also ensure you have the incident recorded on your own, through medical records, witnesses if possible, and your personal injury attorney’s records. It is not recommended that you, without professional help, pursue official actions against the municipality of the public transportation company under which your injury occurred. Having an expert attorney on your side will be your best option, as you know they have your best interest in mind and can help you navigate this complex legal journey resulting in the best possible outcome for you and your loved ones.
Types of Public Transportation and their Causal Connection to Accidents
There are a few main modes of public transportation that are commonly found in New Jersey. Each of them have their own unique ways that an accident or a slip and fall injury may occur. Here, we will outline common causes of slip and fall accidents due to transportation agency or third party negligence in each respective type of public transportation:
- Failure to follow traffic rules
- Impaired driver
- Fatigued driver
- Driver losing control of the vehicle
- Unsafe acceleration or braking while passengers are moving within the bus
- Failure to give proper time for passengers to board and exit the bus
- Failure to yield to road hazards
- Failure to maintain railway
- Railroad crossing accident
- Hazardous debris on railroad tracks
- Defective danger or traffic signs
- Failure to maintain safety features of train
Bus/Train Station Injuries
- Failure to maintain clean/dry floors
- No grip on stairs (usually a code violation)
- Missing or broken handrails on stairways (also usually a code violation)
If an accident or incident that caused your injury was due to a third party’s negligence at least partially, you may have a claim against both the transportation agency and the third party. This applies to all of the modes of public transportation we have covered here. Unfortunately, there are many horrific examples of what can happen when a bus or train driver makes a mistake, resulting in injuries and even fatalities. An example of this is a train that crashed through a barrier in Hoboken New Jersey in 2016, killing a young mother and injuring dozens of other passengers. Five of the families that were affected by this tragedy are set to receive an $8.15 million settlement collectively. Although money cannot fully remedy the pain and suffering caused by this terrifying event, it will surely help the families recoup medical, funeral, and trauma expenses.
Despite the many possible causes, one of the most common ways people get injured on public transportation is by just plain slipping and falling. This can most commonly occur in railway/subway stations because of how large many of these stations are, their exposure to the elements, and how much foot traffic goes through them. Here, for example, is a New Jersey public train station; notice how much snow and ice accumulates during bad weather. When these areas are not maintained regularly, they can become extremely hazardous and prone to slip and fall accidents.
Public bus transportation has similar maintenance logistics as trains, so drivers usually have to pay close attention, especially at bus stops when passengers are boarding and disembarking. In the New Jersey case of Carter v. Public Serv. Coordinated Transp., a pregnant woman attempted to board a bus which allegedly stopped significantly farther from the curb than it should have, and as she stretched out to get on, she slipped and fell down. The bus driver allegedly made eye contact with her, and witnesses stated it was clear and obvious that she was pregnant. Due to the employee not providing a reasonably safe way for the woman to board the bus, the court ruled in favor of the injured woman. This goes to show that even something as simple as stopping a little too far from the curb can lead to injury and, ultimately, a winning lawsuit.
Fault and Liability in New Jersey Law
The first step your attorney will take is to combine all of the proof you have in your claim and file a notice with the correct public transportation agency. Once you and your attorney have an idea who can be held liable, you will need to examine whether they are at fault and whether they can be held liable for your damages in the eyes of the law. It all comes down to premises liability, so let’s take a closer look at what the law entails:
Premises liability involves the laws that govern accidents occurring on other people’s property and when/why the property owner is liable for these accidents. The laws of premises liability apply here when someone trips and falls on the property of a public transportation agency’s property. Here are some types of visitors on a property and how their status impacts a case:
This is someone who is allowed on the property because the owner is allowing the premises to be open to the public for business. In this case, it is the property owner/manager’s duty to ensure that dangerous hazards are repaired in a timely manner and visitors are warned of any hidden defects that may cause injury. This is usually done by putting up signs, cones, and other signage or announcements to warn people of any kind of hazard.
This is an individual who has legal permission to be on another’s property. This even includes social guests. The owner or manager of a property does not have to inspect and perfect a property for a licensee’s visit, however they must still be warned of known dangers on the property. An example of a licensee would be the construction or third-party maintenance workers that have a license to enter the property by an owner or manager while a train or bus station is closed.
A trespasser does not nearly have the same amount of rights as the other two categories of visitors. An owner or manager of a property does not owe a trespasser much duty of care, because they are not allowed to be on the property, especially in the eyes of the law. The owner of a property usually only has the duty of care not to intentionally, maliciously, and/or recklessly cause harm to the trespasser.
Injured Party’s Burden of Proof to Win a Slip and Fall Case Against a Public Transportation Company
Generally speaking, the vast majority of injury cases require you to prove that the other party was negligent in some way and their negligence is what caused your injury. Although public transportation injury cases are still based on negligence, New Jersey takes it a step further. The state requires public transportation companies to remain in accordance with “common carrier” laws. This means that a “common carrier,” such as buses, trains, and taxis are held to a very high standard of care. Again, this still means an injured person must prove that the public transportation company’s negligence caused their injury, however a common carrier is obligated to provide the highest level of care for their passengers, and protect them from dangers that are known or reasonably foreseeable. Furthermore, New Jersey defines this degree of care as that of a very careful and prudent person.
For example, let’s imagine that you are on a public bus or train, and the driver is willingly distracted on their cell phone, not noticing a hazard in front of them until the last second, the driver is forced to hit the brakes or swerve to avoid that hazard causing you to slip and fall on the ground and get injured. In this scenario, you likely have a strong case against the bus driver for their negligence causing your injury. However, not all incidents play out like this. Let’s say that the bus or train driver was not distracted by anything, driving at a reasonable and safe speed, and a child or motorcycle suddenly emerges in their path. Even though the driver is forced to stop short or swerve, causing you an injury, it does not mean they were negligent.
Another way to imagine the difference between civilian drivers like us, and a public transportation driver’s common carrier standard is that they owe a higher duty of care to their passengers than the average driver. When you are driving with your family or friends, you are not supposed to talk to your passengers, but you do anyway, even if it is a little bit negligent. Public transport drivers cannot be negligent, not even a little bit, so they cannot do something like talk to their passengers.
Simply put, if you slip and fall on public transportation, you must prove that the public transportation agency had a duty of care in relation to the cause of your injury. Next, you must show that they breached this duty, which ultimately caused your injury.
New Jersey’s Modified Comparative Negligence Law
New Jersey follows a modified comparative negligence law which is significantly different from pure comparative negligence. One main difference is that in modified comparative negligence law, a claimant cannot receive compensation for damages if they are found more at fault than the opposing party. For example, if someone slips and falls on public transportation, and they were found to have the majority (more than 50%) of the fault, they cannot recover any compensation if they sustain an injury or property damage. So, if you were texting while walking on a train platform and failed to notice a hazard, you may share some liability for your slip and fall accident.
Making a Claim Against a Public Transportation Entity
Public transportation companies are usually state or municipal agencies, and the state, local governments, and public agencies have allowed special state laws (often called State Tort Claims Acts) to apply to them. Due to the fact that the nature of these claims are made against the government or it’s entities, you must follow specific rules and guidelines to begin your claim, which are generally very different from a claim against a private party.
You must file your claim in a timely manner. Normally, New Jersey requires most automobile accidents to be claimed within two years from the time of the incident. This is called the “statute of limitations.” Essentially, the statute of limitation is in place to ensure that people don’t wait too long after the occurrence of an incident to bring it up in court. There are various reasons for this, but in general, the facts, memory, and truth to a case can fade the longer someone waits to bring it up in a claim to the court. If you do not bring up your case in a timely manner, it will likely be dismissed immediately and forever, unless a specific exception applies to you.
Lawsuits against the government may have more strict time periods in which you must take action on a matter. The Tort Claims Act in New Jersey requires you to give notice of a claim within 90 days to the public agency you believe to be at fault. If you miss this deadline, you will be barred from taking action forever. Once you give this notice properly, you have two years from that date to file a lawsuit. In addition, you cannot start a lawsuit for six months from the date you issue a tort claim notice to the proper agency.
A notice must be in writing and submitted to the correct agency. It is crucial that you make your claim to the correct agency or your claim may be dismissed as a whole. Even if you accidentally send the notice to the agency just a block away from the correct agency, it will more than likely be completely dismissed.
Why You Should Hire an Expert Attorney
Raising an issue or claim with a public transportation agency can often be extremely intimidating and complicated. This is because you are essentially going up against an entity either owned or
backed by the state. From filing a claim/notice, to filing a lawsuit, you need a skilled professional on your side that knows the “ins-and-outs” of this whole area of the law to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. To have the absolute best chance at success after a slip and fall on public transportation in New Jersey, hiring a skilled attorney can be the best choice you could have made.
Slip and Fall on Public Transportation Statistics
- Railway slip and falls and imprudent behavior caused 39% of non-suicide and trespassing fatalities.
- The United States Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation (BTS) found that there were 190 fatalities total on public transportation in 2019.
- BTS data also showed 8,119 people were injured on public transportation in 2019.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is a settlement amount determined for a slip and fall on public transportation?
Generally speaking, when attorneys are negotiating a slip and fall settlement, they try to rationalize what the most likely outcome would be if they took the case to court. If one of the parties believes they would have a higher chance of losing if the case was taken to court, they will likely try to settle out of court. For example, if a public transportation agency believes they were at fault, they may offer to settle the case out of court. From their perspective, they must make the claimant feel as though they are getting a fair settlement, similar to what they would recover if the case went to trial, minus the headache of an entire court trial procedure.
What if my slip and fall was caused by two separate parties, who is responsible?
It depends. Usually if there are two parties responsible for your slip and fall injury, you can pursue both. If you have a skilled personal injury attorney, they will go through a case like this thoroughly and make sure that all parties responsible are held accountable.
What happens if I lose a loved one due to a slip and fall accident?
In this case, you would usually want to file a wrongful death lawsuit instead of a personal injury one. You will need to prove that the entity responsible was negligent, causing your loved one’s death. A wrongful death lawsuit is significantly different from a personal injury lawsuit. Not all family members may recover compensation, and there is a hierarchy of who can receive what share of the compensation if your case is won. You need to contact a wrongful death expert attorney to discuss details of such a case, so that you can pursue a lawsuit of this kind properly and thoroughly, taking some load off your shoulders while you recover from your loss.
Who Should You Contact?
Everyone expects public transportation to be well-maintained and safe for your use. When something goes wrong in the maintenance and repairs of public transportation vehicles or facilities, or if an operator is negligent in some way, serious (even fatal) consequences may arise. To secure the compensation you justly deserve, you will need the support of the highly competent and determined legal team here at Rosenblum Law. We have decades of litigation experience and unrivaled legal expertise to ensure you get the best possible chance to recover and move on with your life. If you or a loved one have been injured in a slip and fall on public transportation, don’t hesitate to take the crucial first step on the road to recovery. E-mail or call us at 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.